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Terrible Truth, The

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Terrible Truth, The

Publication date 1951
Digitizing sponsor N/A
Early (and sensational) film on marijuana use as a route to heroin addiction.



Ken Smith sez: An old juvenile court judge named McKesson, who keeps referring to himself as "we" and "us," decides he wants to find out about drugs. The judge says this to the camera, but the words he mouths bear absolutely no relation to the words on the soundtrack. He drives to a house where he meets "Phyllis," a teenager who tells us (also out-of-synch) that when you smoke marijuana "everything speeds up to 100 miles an hour!" She meets "Chuck" (who is a "hype" and a "peddler") and starts wearing lipstick, becomes a junkie, loses her looks, goes through withdrawl (some good histrionics here) and reforms. Judge McKesson then tells us that the Russians are promoting drug traffic in the United States to "undermine national morale," and that the only way we can stop the spread of drug use is by using "good sense." The film concludes with a newspaper headline -- "America's Teen Age Dope 'Fad' Ending!" Another unique Sid Davis production.

"This is the home of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Howard. They just got their teenage daughter back after a six-month nightmare that even Edgar Allan Poe couldn't have improved upon." With that we plunge deep into the underside of Los Angeles youth culture in the early fifties. In many of his films, Sid Davis explored the perils awaiting children and adolescents in the great city of Los Angeles, full of "hypes," "peddlers" and "dangerous strangers." This time, with the disapproving figure of Judge William B. McKesson as our guide, we follow Phyllis Howard on her journey to hell and back.
There are ecstatic moments on Phyllis's journey, like her drive up into the mountains when she smokes reefer and "everything speeds up to a hundred miles per hour." There are also hellish moments, like her cold turkey withdrawal behind bars in the county jail. The film mixes documentary realism (shot on the streets of Hollywood and downtown L.A.) with sensational narration. "Some say the Reds are promoting dope traffic in the United States to undermine national morale," says the judge/narrator. "They did it in China a few years back. It's certainly true that the increased use of narcotics plays right into their hands."
Well before most other educational film producers, Davis made films about sensitive subjects like drug abuse and child molestation. This made him a genuine pioneer, as he had to navigate territory without a body of previous work to emulate. It also meant that he had constantly to address issues of disbelief and denial. As Judge McKesson asks at the end of the film, "Well, that's Phyllis's story. In the United States of America, 20th century. Unbelievable, isn't it, that such things can happen?"
From the producer's description:
"All over the United States, committees of parents and educators are meeting to determine what can be done to combat the greatest menace ever to peril the welfare of American youth: Narcotic addiction. All agree that something besides stricter enforcement of the drug laws is needed. That 'something' is Education. Teen-age boys and girls must be educated to the shocking consequences of 'playing around' with narcotics!
"It has been proved over and over again that there is no more effective medium of education than the motion picture. The first step in an educational program to fight drug addiction is an effective educational film.
"The Terrible Truth documents the tragic story of one teen-age girl, typical of youthful addicts. Starting with an occasional marijuana cigarette, she is induced to experiment with a 'fix' of heroin. In a few days, she is [a] hopeless 'hype,' ends up with a criminal record and a blighted future. Local and national government studies are cited to show that almost 100 per cent of youthful addicts eventually turn to crime to get money to satisfy their 'habit.'
"It is the responsibility of every community, large or small, to protect its youth against this tragic, appalling menace. Whether a city or town has already experienced the disaster of teen-age drug usage, or whether it has so far escaped being touched, the problem is the same: To educate boys and girls against narcotic usage before it is too late, before more lives and futures are forfeit. No community is safe, so long as the 'fad' is allowed to exist anywhere."



Reviewer: kfinn - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - July 2, 2011
Subject: Public Domain?
Greetings, I'm trying to find out if this video is in the public domain or if it needs to be licensed. Any help you could give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

Reviewer: ThinkingAmerican - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 21, 2007
Subject: Terrible for sure, but not the Truth

This is GREAT! "The U-nited States of Amer-r-r-rica" You have to trill the "r" in "Amerrrica". Why the judge gets all Mediter-r-r-ranian just for that word is never explained. The old-people-head-shaking-in-disgust factor is about a 9 out of 10 in this film.

Highs - Tripped out music, and quotes like...

"I guess I knew about reefer - that's marijuana - ever since junior high. Some of the boys smoked them. The ones who couldn't get along who were afraid of everyone. You know, the ones with no backbone."

"They both smoked pot - that's jive talk for marijuana."

"In the Far East a few years back, they were lining up dope dealers and shooting them in the back of the head. But it didn't stop addiction (headline: Ask Death Penalty for Dope Peddlers)"

"Some say the Reds are promoting dope traffic in the United States to undermine national morale. They did it in China a few years back."

Lows - That anyone ever believed smoking pot would lead directly to doing "H" *sigh*
Reviewer: beirwer - favorite - May 21, 2007
Subject: Stupid only is as stupid does
Hysteria is a gateway emotion, it leads to sheer idiocy and gross generalizations.

Life is a gateway condition, it always leads to death. Everyone who has ever been alive always ends up dying. Let's abolish all human life on this planet and finally stamp out this insidious social disease once and for all.

Seriously though, I have to agree with the reviewer further below. The only thing scarier than these types of social propaganda films is the fact that some people still think this way (although I use the word "think" loosely).
Reviewer: Rufus T. Firefly - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - May 20, 2007
Subject: Funniest line in any of these films
"They both smoke pot...that's 'jive talk' for marijuana."

I can't help but think of Barbara Billingsley - "Oh stewardess? I speak jive."
Reviewer: OneTime99 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - November 9, 2006
Subject: It's not that funny
As campy as this film is, it is mostly accurate. Sure alcohol is the biggest gateway drug, so all you have to do is replace pot with alcohol in this film. The truths are timeless. Everybody starts with some substance in the company of a bunch of friends and it's fun. They think they can control it and take it or leave it. Then if they've got the desease it becomes a bigger and bigger part of their lives until it becomes a part of them and they search for bigger and better highs. For many it ends up just like this film shows. Strung out, dreams lost, lives and relationships ruined. I've seen it time and time again. Many in this chain like to laugh at this film as outrages hyperbole. Sure it's funny because of the etremes it portrays. But it is mostly true even today. Many who think this film is stupid are casual users who think they can control it so they resent being lumped in with hard core junkies, but it's just as matter of degrees. And you're lying to yourself when you say it doesn't have an adverse affect on your live.
Reviewer: hudgeliberal - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 29, 2006
Subject: Insanity rules the day
This reminds me of the classic scare tactic film,Reefer Madness. I agree with the guy who remarked that if any drug is a gateway drug,it is alcohol. The so-called drug war in this country is a joke. 70 percent of our inmate population is non-violent drug offenders. Then you hear everyone cry when a rapist or child molester is set free to repeat their violent acts,they wonder why they get released. The reason...our prisons are full of people who were caught with a bag of weed,or a pain pill etc. People who are not really a threat to anyone but themselves,yet they are locked away for years,taking up space that could be used for violent criminals,all because of the ridiculous laws enacted during the dark Reagan years. Mandatory sentencing for drug related crimes should be stopped immediately. The government wants to be the big drug dealer,that is why every drug that you can buy on the street has a prescription drug that is just as powerful. We need to look at the one truly free government,Holland(Netherlands)to see just how to deal with drug use. Treatment and tolerance are the only ways to deal with drugs. Holland has the lowest crime rate,HIV rate,and their prisons have real criminals,not just a bunch of people who self medicate because of depression or mental illness. I give the film 4 stars for the comedy aspect of it. However,the sad truth is that most people actually believe stupid films such as this a country of hippocrites we are.
Reviewer: historian - favorite - February 22, 2006
Subject: An OK story, a sad social statement.
The video is OK I guess. What I find frightening is some reviewers still seem to view it as realistic. I spent 5 years as a white cop in California. It was common knowledge among us that the pot laws were a joke. The biggest gateway drug is booze. The US found out that prohibition only creates organized crime so it was abolished. The booze destroys countless lives but at least "the mob" was broken. Then we did the same thing with pot. This time the criminals used the system. The crooks pay off the people in power to make sure pot is kept illegal in my opinion. It is a huge farce. To make things worse, these same laws are now being used to create slave labor in our prisons. You can stick a person in prison and force them to work for next to nothing. That is called slavery in my book. The prisons are full of young black men whose only crime was being black. The laws are written the way they are to ensure a constant stream of new slaves.
Pot should be decriminalized and all other drug possession offenses should be treated by doctors, not arrested by cops. Our prisons would all but empty out and the 98% of the drug trade that threatens the security of our great nation would be gone overnight. Sorry to say that will never happen as long as so much money is involved.
I would have given the film a 4 star rating as an old nostalgia flick. But since some reviewers see fit to review it as a serious documentary I will have to give it a single star rating. I'm just sorry I can't rate it any lower.
Reviewer: Spuzz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - February 3, 2005
Subject: Thank You Mr Mckesson!
A wild romp through what makes a dope fiend, made surprising this time as the victim is a woman. This is a pretty standard story, you can tell the woman is going to hell in a handbasket because of the unkemptness of her hair.
Having said that, this film is an absolute technical mess. When Mr. Mckesson comes on and starts narrating, I thought my audio was out of whack, then I thought the film download's audio was out of whack. I am quite certain now it's the film ITSELF doing it. Like it's the most laughable dubbing job EVER. I like how Mckesson barely moves his lips up and down!
Newspapers, as usual, are all the same with different headlines, and check out the newspaper the Junkie's dad is holding, it's curiously full of holes!
Lastly, when Mckesson introduces us to the junkie in question, we then see a shot of the Junkie's mom and her. I thought for a moment the junkie was her mom LOL.
This film is a MUST SEE ON THIS SITE!
Reviewer: Marysz - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - August 12, 2004
Subject: Drugs lead to Bad Hair
One more example of the perilous world that kids inhabit in Sid Davis films. In this case, the shadowy man hanging around outside the school isn't a pedophile, but a drug peddler. As usual, we meet his law-abiding opposite; a judge who also narrates the film.

High school girl Phyllis falls for slick drug pusher Joe and gets hooked on ÃÂÃÂH.ÃÂÃÂ PhyllisÃÂÃÂs addiction does terrible things to her appearance. Because of heroin, every day is a bad hair day for Phyllis. And she stops tucking in her blouse, too! The film is almost as appalled by the fact that her addiction leads to poor grooming on her part as it is about the drug addiction itself. Eventually, Phyllis gets arrested and dries out. She ends up back with her parents and with a hideous new hairdo.

The film's attempt to show evils of drugs ends up unintentionally glamorizing them. The life that Phyllis leads as an addict wouldnÃÂÃÂt seem so bad to teenagers. She moves away from home, gets her own place, marries a cool-looking guy and even earns her own income (selling drugs). Her arrest is almost an afterthought. And whatÃÂÃÂs her reward for kicking her habit? She ends up back at home with Mom and Dad, with bad hair and dowdy clothes. And she gets lectured to by a pompous judge. Thanks a lot.
Reviewer: coffeebot - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - June 13, 2004
Subject: Youthfulness leads to JAIL
If you are afraid of everything and have no backbone you're gonna become an addict. But not to worry: drugs are the 20th century make-over.

Phyllis doesn't want to talk about being an 'H' junkie but does a good job spilling the whole story. 'Hype' Husband Joe tells her, "you should use heroin 'cuz it'll make ME feel better." Fortunately for spineless, hooked Phyllis, the humanitarian police stuff her in a jail cell to rehabilitate for "FIVE DAYS... five days..."

I see 'pot' (that's JIVE TALK for reefer) everywhere I go but I've never even seen a heroin needle: I must not be living in America.

I have to wonder what the hell Helen's parents, the Howards, are like: they look in the newspaper to see where she is. Message to parents: next time, use the internet.
Reviewer: Pedro_Lobito - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 16, 2004
Subject: Why doesnÃÂÃÂt drugs disappear from the face of the earth, like everything else that America doesnÃÂÃÂt like or approve???
The answer is easy, drugs are a very lucrative business controlled by the military all over the world, specially USA army and CIA agents, the world biggest drug dealers, they make the contacts to buy and sell drugs and they also arrange weapon dealings, that money goes into the same bagÃÂÃÂ.and the transportation its freeÃÂÃÂ customs offÃÂÃÂ and ÃÂÃÂ..TOP SECRETÃÂÃÂ.
But there is other very effective weapon that drugs give to the ÃÂÃÂestablishmentÃÂÃÂ, they make people lazy and easy controlled by the system, this is, in my point of view, the most important function of drugs in the contemporary society, the power to create a lazy, non political active and divided social structure, we should always remember that the drugs boom happened in the middle sixties when Vietnam war was a major concern to world youth . US and other ÃÂÃÂunitedÃÂÃÂ governments saw that giving drugs to youth was a good business and a way of keep them some how ÃÂÃÂdomesticatedÃÂÃÂ and non political or socially active.
The sixties movement, was the last breath of real revolution and non acceptance of the imperialist world, in the xx century, after that nothing...young people prefer playing playstation or shopping to talk about politics or social issues, or they prefer to use drugs and live in a different reality, leaving the world to the sharksÃÂÃÂ
See the example of Iraq, before coalition invasion there was no heroin in Baghdad or elsewhere in Iraq, a year after, there is a substantial number of people addicted. The same occurred in Portugal, months after the April revolution in 1974, Lisbon started to receive huge amounts of heroin, cocaine and marijuana, that resulted in very hi number of young people addicted in a short amount of time. The revolution was made by low patent officers in the Portuguese army and by CIA agents - at that time USA add serious interests that Portugal quitted on all colonies in Africa and India - . The revolution went on and Portugal said goodbye to 47 years of censorship and hello to a new world, that world included a wide range of drugs for a generation that add little or none social options and wasnÃÂÃÂt enough educated to deal with that problem.
A person who was born before the revolution stated that:
ÃÂÃÂThe censorship was bad, but there were no drugs. In our days a lot of families have drug related problems.ÃÂÃÂ
As long as USA rule the world economy there will be always drugs...itÃÂÃÂs sad but itÃÂÃÂs trueÃÂÃÂ
Reviewer: alexsteele - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 8, 2004
Subject: drugs
drugs kick ass
Reviewer: SteveGus - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - March 7, 2004
Subject: A Sid Davis classic
What makes Sid Davis films so refreshing compared to their competition was their ever-present pessimism. None of the troubled youths they feature ever come to a good end.

The junkie Svengali in a jacket and tie adds a nice William S. Burroughs note to the film, even if the scenes depicting the horrors of heroin withdrawal seem less than convincing.
Reviewer: python(monty) - favoritefavoritefavorite - December 31, 2003
Subject: franky? i think your on drugs
responding to frank just because the taliban supplies heroin for other countries doesn't make them communists, if you look closley their a militant country that is controlled by whoever has the biggest guns, communism actually needs a govt. and drugs dont lead to communism, stupidity and the unaccepting ethics of people like you lead to the downfall of western civilization, as a movie I liked reefer madness better
Reviewer: FrankSinatra123 - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - October 21, 2003
Subject: Still the Truth Today
I've studied the drug problem and I believe that the same applies to the US today. Even the part about the commies, what was the Taliban's #1 cash crop? The answer is Heroin. This would be perfect to show in a drug education class even 50 years from now.
Reviewer: Steve Nordby - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - September 20, 2003
Subject: Here's your brain on Sid Davis
Marijuana -> heroin -> drug dealer -> jail. Beautiful color, incredibly bad sound/lip sync in a few parts. Ends by implying a communist conspiracy.
Reviewer: EWKEANE - favoritefavoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - April 22, 2003
Subject: The Judge is still correct
At the end of the film he says "Use Good Sense" This is true. For the pot user, it says "smoke the best pot". It also says (to the dope feind) "dont use this stuff irresponsibly" and "Use pot when you feel sad,in a social setting for maximum effect". Also, to the pot user, it says "if you use pot, you must know that there is a difference between 'how you feel' and 'how you actually are'". This is because we live in a world of perception, as opposed to a world of matter, and mass. Of Motion, and speed. We can tell the difference between terrible fantacy, and honest truth. This is because we human. This is why we are human. Some people make mistakes, and use drugs. Some people make mistakes, and dont use drugs. It is good sense for both to find ways to get along together better.
Reviewer: Christine Hennig - favoritefavoritefavoritefavorite - December 20, 2002
Subject: The Terrible Truth
This 50s anti-drug film was made by the same company as Name Unknown, and has much the same feel. The same stern judge appears and introduces us to Phyllis, a recovering teenage heroin addict. Her story is essentially the same story of experimentation leading to addiction leading to crime leading to hitting bottom leading to kicking the habit leading to warning others that is seen in practically every film of this type. As you would expect of an early 50s film, misinformation is rampant (a pot high is described as "everything speeds up to 100 miles per hour," every kid who experiments with drugs even a little bit will always end up addicted, etc.). But it is interesting that this film even exists, considering that most people think of the early 50s as an "innocent" period, free from such a modern problem as teen drug addiction. As usual, film ephemera gives us a broader view of the past.
Ratings: Camp/Humor Value: ****. Weirdness: ***. Historical Interest: *****. Overall Rating: ****. Also available on Our Secret Century, Vol. 5: Teenage Transgression.
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